Teen Changemakers Essay Contest: 3rd Place

By: Courtney Hughes

I began feeling an intense worry as early as middle school, in many different forms. It became evident when I fell ill before taking the ACT in seventh grade, and when I would begin to panic when a store felt too crowded. When I brought up my possible anxiety to my parents, they did not know how to properly discuss mental health and shut down the issue without any resolutions. Their lack of knowledge and awareness greatly impacted me, as my feelings felt unjustified and inescapable. This lack of understanding forever shaped the way I viewed mental health, and opened my eyes to an issue plaguing our youth.

Then, at the height of my interest with mental health, my school’s principal began the Youth Serving Youth Council. Composed of leaders from all clubs and organizations, the council discussed issues we felt plagued our hallways. Suicide became a topic of discussion, as our community had lost far too many students to such an epidemic. I felt defeated as I returned home, with such a heavy topic lingering on my shoulders. How was I, a high school student, supposed to save lives? However, I soon realized I needed to facilitate discussion, and bring awareness to such a prominent issue.

After getting approval from my principal, I began Be the Change, a club with the initiative to create a more positive, inclusive environment while increasing the well-being and overall success of students. I worried other students would not see the neByLed for discussion that I did; however, my insecurities were quickly dismissed with the love and constant support of our students and faculty.

Be the Change’s most successful event has been “Commitment to Change,” a night in which mental health professionals and counselors hosted a panel and breakout discussions for students and parents. Going into the night, I made a promise to myself. If one person, just one, was changed for the better because of the event, it would have been worth it. As we were picking up after the event, a student informed me that some students were still in a classroom. Upon entering the room, I found four students of different backgrounds, races, and genders tearfully embracing each other. Despite not knowing each other before the night began, they promised they would always greet each other in the hallways and check up on one another. It was such a heartwarming reassurance that Be the Change was not just for me, it was actually helping those who felt lost.

Be the Change address issues ranging from mental health, suicide prevention, confidence, to kindness. It aims to strengthen the individual student with the love and acceptance of others.

My interest in mental health and the role it plays in our lives has influenced the person I have become in my final years of high school, as I prioritize my well-being over grades. I have began to see my worth as an individual and a student, as I understand my success is only dictated by my own determination. Unlike my peers, I am able to enter the school day rejuvenated, ready to take on new challenges and ideas. As I am aware of our need for self-care, I have also learned the importance of prioritizing and time-management, a skill that I believe will greatly benefit me in college. Similarly, I have a newfound appreciated for my peers, as I have seen the need for kindness in our world and learned the weight our words can have. I am going to miss witnessing what Be the Change is becoming, but I am glad to leave a lasting discussion on mental health, suicide prevention, and much more. As I enter the next phase of my life, I plan to take my personal growth and newfound knowledge with me as I continue to spread awareness and foster discussions on issues plaguing our youth.

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